The best fighters in the world are not born that way. They put in years of hard work and sweat, and they sculpt themselves into the best athletes they can be. However, the creation is rarely all their own.

Being a great fighter is a combination of experience, personal drive, natural talent, great coaching, dedicated training partners and past learning experiences, which almost always involves losses. In the case of Zoila “Warrior Princess” Gurgel, she has the complete package.

Gurgel, who is currently 12-2 in her four-year career as a professional, has an awesome camp, run by her husband, famed BJJ expert and UFC veteran Jorge Gurgel. She has natural talent with her strong build and lightning fast speed. And she has experience fighting some of the best female fighters in the world, which did net her two losses. That, by definition, is the complete package.

Although all of the other variables are important, probably the most essential part of a fighter’s journey is the experience of losing.

“The only time that I have ever lost in mixed martial arts were the times I got ahead of myself when it came to being angry,” admitted Gurgel in an exclusive interview with The MMA Corner. “I’ve never been a great fighter when I fight angry. The first time I ever lost was to Miesha Tate. It was pretty much the same thing. She was talking a lot of trash, and I couldn’t understand why. Now we’re friends and we’re on a great level, and she explained to me that she was trying to get into my head, and that’s basically what she did.

“Miesha Tate talked so much trash that by the time we came to fight, I was so angry, there was no game plan. I was just going in there to rip her head off. I just wanted to go in there and beat the living dog crap out of her.”

Gurgel (R) connects with a kick (Keith Mills/Sherdog)

The fight with Tate was a long time ago, three years ago to be exact, at Gurgel’s second Strikeforce appearance. After that fight, she went on quite the tear.

Over the next two and a half years, Gurgel defeated all seven of her opponents, six of which happened on the Bellator stage. She took out such opponents as current Invicta atomweight champ Jessica Penne, Jessica Aguilar, Megumi Fujii and Rosi Sexton. However, in her most recent fight, which turned out to be her last in Bellator, Gurgel suffered her second loss to the then 8-1 Jessica Eye.

“Obviously, I didn’t learn my lesson, because the second time it happened, it was the same thing,” admitted Gurgel. “It started a lot earlier than that. I just let it get to me, so I tried to stay out of the light of the media. I didn’t want to see what she had to say. I didn’t want to deal with any of that stuff.

“By the time it came to fight time, I would do interviews and people would tell me what she’s been saying and what her coaches said I’ve been saying. I was like, ‘What? This girl’s been saying a lot of stuff I never said.’ They were making it out to be like I was the bad guy. I’m saying this and I’m saying that, and I’m going to get my ass beat.”

Unfortunately for Gurgel, being the competitor she is, the talk got in her head in a bad way.

“Right then and there, I was like, ‘I’ve had it,’” Gurgel intimated. “She’s going to talk all this stuff, and that’s where I started to become a ticking time bomb. I took it all the wrong way, and I didn’t care about anything else.

“It wasn’t like controlled aggression. I went in the same way I did with Tate, to rip her head off. I ran straight in and got clipped, and the rest was history. By the time I was able to recover, I was already out. It was the second time that happened, and another lesson to learn. I can’t ever let that happen again. I can’t let what these people say ruin my game plan.”

Things got a little shaky for Gurgel’s career after the loss. Bellator wasn’t exactly jumping at the chance to renew her contract and she was coming off a disappointing performance.

“We had been trying to get a fight with Bellator, but our contract was set to expire,” explained Gurgel. “So, we had talked to [Bellator CEO] Bjorn [Rebney], and I was ready to fight the next day. Stuff happens, and I was ready to get back in there and fight. We waited and waited for so long and they weren’t really coming back with anything. By the time my husband had talked to them again and said I was ready to fight, they pretty much said I could look somewhere else.

“The contract was up, but they still had that clause that said if somebody makes an offer, Bellator has the right to match it. But even with that, they were pretty much like, ‘You’re not going to like what we have to offer.’ So, they kind of let me go in a sense, and I was like, ‘Fine, if you don’t want me, then I don’t want to work for you either.’”

Gurgel is not the first fighter as of late that has had these problems with Bellator. In fact, earlier in the fall of 2012, Tyson Nam, who hadn’t gotten anywhere with Bellator but defeated the Bellator champ, Eduardo Dantas, in Shooto Brazil, had already experienced the promotion trying to exercise its “right to match” clause, and he had to jump through legal hoops to ultimately get released. Gurgel was facing the same possibility, but she was fortunate to be able to leave amicably.

“Right then and there, that same day, is when we started talking to Invicta, and I ended up signing with them,” stated Gurgel.

This turned out to be a huge score for both parties. Invicta had been putting together some phenomenal cards with the best female fighters in the world, and one of the best fighters was looking for a home.

Gurgel’s last Bellator fight had just taken place in December, but with her Invicta bout coming up in April, she got right back to work.

“Training’s been going pretty great, the best that it’s ever been,” said Gurgel. “Especially when it comes to the skill level that I’m at, it’s the best that it’s ever been.

“Right before the loss to Eye, I said the same thing, but I wasn’t able to showcase any of those new skills that I had been learning up until that point. So, right now, everything’s right on track with my jiu-jitsu, wrestling, judo, striking, boxing. Everything has finally come together, and I’m not just going in there as a one-dimensional striker.”

Gurgel made a point that has been lingering in the minds of fans for quite sometime. She’s already proven to be a great striker, but how could she perform as a well-rounded MMA fighter?

“My entire martial arts career, I’ve been able to be a striker,” admitted Gurgel. “I’ve been stronger and been able to push people around and push the pace. Now, I’ve grown into a mixed martial artist. It’s pretty exciting to be able to go in there and not just worry about staying on my feet. I can go in there and throw strikes and not worry about getting taken down so much. I’m pretty excited to be able to put it all together like that and be able to go out there and showcase it all.”

Well, there’s no arguing that she will have her hands full in her next fight. On April 5, at Invicta FC 5, Gurgel will face Jennifer Maia, a Brazilian who holds a 6-2-1 career mark. Maia has finished four of her opponents by submission and is considered solid in the BJJ arena, but Gurgel’s husband is one of the best BJJ coaches in the MMA world.

“She’s from Brazil and she appears to be a tough girl,” Gurgel said. “She’s been around for a while. She has an okay record. I don’t really see anything threatening from her. Whether it’s on the ground or standing, I’m not really too worried about anything at all.

“She’s supposed to be a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu ace, but a lot of the submissions I’ve seen, they weren’t really that technical, and I’ve never really seen a technical fight come from her. I think I have the upper hand in everything.”

Gurgel is 29 years old with fourteen pro fights and Jennifer Maia is 24 years old with nine pro fights, so the experience is definitely in favor of Gurgel. But Maia has been fighting some ladies that are no joke.

In fact, Maia’s only two losses are to veteran Vanessa Porto, who is 15-5 with ten submissions and three knockouts and is fighting for the flyweight title on the Invicta FC 5 card, and Sheila Gaff, the German knockout artist who is now fighting in the UFC.

Gurgel has faced some of the toughest girls in the game, but Maia is definitely a game opponent. However, Gurgel is not quite as worried about this match-up as some may think.

“First round,” Gurgel predicts for the finish. “I’ve been working my ass off, and I don’t need to let it go past the first round. Any opening that she gives me, any chance that I get, and I’m going to finish the fight. That’s what I’ve been training to do this entire time.”

Gurgel (top) drops a right hand (Keith Mills/Sherdog)

Coming off her angry fight with Eye, Gurgel needs this one and she wants it bad. Unlike Bellator, Invicta has put a lot of faith into Gurgel and her contract.

“Five fights in three years,” stated Gurgel. That’s what she is signed up for with the up-and-coming all-female promotion.

Invicta president Shannon Knapp and her business partner Janet Martin, the Invicta matchmaker, have done a commendable job of pulling in some of the best fighters in the world. Knowing what kind of organization she is now with, Gurgel, while focusing on the task at hand, already has her eyes on the title that will be won by either Porto or Barb Honchak later that same night.

“I know what’s ahead,” explained Gurgel. “After I beat Jennifer Maia, there’s a championship fight going on right after—Barb Honchak and Vanessa Porto. I would love to go in there, put on a great show and get the chance to challenge the champion. I came in to fight the best and to be the best. In order to do that, I need to make my way up again, and that would be the next step.”

At this point, it would take a brave person to look Gurgel in the face and tell her anything different. With her skills and background, a decisive first-round victory will erase any doubt that she deserves that shot.

If all of the other facts aren’t clear enough, Gurgel’s life outside MMA should tell the layperson where she belongs.

“Before I fought, I used to do a bunch of crazy stuff, like snowboarding,” said Gurgel. “I used to have a motorcycle I would ride crazy. Anything that would get my adrenaline up, I would do, but now, this is my career. I can’t really chance getting hurt. Since I just came off that ACL surgery, I really can’t chance getting hurt outside of MMA.

“I spend a lot of time with my husband and my family. I have a lot of family in California, and Jorge’s mother is in New York, so I have family there too. If I get any little amount of time, I visit my family. Other than that, we stay home. We have a puppy, so we spend time with him. We don’t drink or go out or do any of that stuff.”

Gurgel’s life revolves around MMA. She has abandoned every other activity to dedicate all of her time and energy to her craft. Not that she’s the only fighter that does this, but she takes it to the extreme.

Some fighters ride bikes and blow glass sculptures. Some fighters ride waves, and others play piano.

For Zoila Gurgel, it’s all about MMA.

“I’m a fighter. I’m a true, real fighter. A lot of people haven’t seen the fights I was in early. I worked my ass off to be where I am. I’m a fighter and I deserve respect.”

Zoila would like to thank her husband, Jorge Gurgel, her sister and fellow fighter, Stephanie Frausto, Mike Ferguson of Power Station Gym, Kru Jasper Tayaba, and wrestling coach Alan Fried. She would also like to thank her sponsors: JGMMA, Addison Sports Management, Bad Reputation Clothing, Tussle Fight Gear, Fight Soap, Polanti Watches, Outlaw Fight Gear, Combatives Gear, VII A.D., Zoyla’s Tax and Klench MouthGuards. Follow Gurgel on Twitter: @ZoilaGurgel

Top Photo: Zoila Gurgel (Keith Mills/Sherdog)